WORK-LIFE BALANCE / NOV. 23, 2015
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Prepare to Fail: The Black Friday Business Survival Guide

While the term Black Friday sounds far more sinister than it actually is, its unique demands and pressures can serve as a genuine nightmare for business-owners. After all, dramatic and sustained traffic spikes can derail even the most established of websites, while the fact that Black Friday spending plummeted by 11 percent in 2014 also highlighted the risk of investing heavily in additional stock to meet the expected demand. When you also consider that Black Friday will arrive on 27th November, after U.S. citizens have spent an entire day with their families to celebrate Thanksgiving, it is easy to understand the tangible darkness that exists in Black Friday.

See Also: How to Avoid working on Black Friday

Black Friday is now a global phenomenon, and it now impacts on 15 global markets around the world. Britain is one of the most prominent, and as we speak hundreds and thousands of UK business-owners are hurriedly preparing for an onslaught of frenzied, bargain-hungry consumers. While many content themselves with the organisation of additional manpower, stock and IT infrastructure support, there are others who take a far more strategic approach to fortifying their online operation for the onset of Black Friday.

More specifically, there are a select few business owners who are envisaging the worst-case scenario and are preparing to fail this Black Friday. Although this may sound strange and at odds with the bullish, overly aggressive business mantra spouted by moguls such as Donald Trump, it represents a realistic approach that enables firms to recognise genuine risks and develop proactive solutions. Ultimately, it is this ethos that is likely to deliver a viable profit, while those from the Rambo school of business sink into a vast, Black Friday abyss.

So, how exactly should you prepare to fail this Black Friday? Here are some ideas to help you sustain a profitable venture during the busiest shopping holiday of the year:

1. Imagine There's No Sale: Set Achievable Targets and Budgets

As Black Friday approaches, company owners often become consumed by the kind of panic that is usually reserved for the trading floor on Wall Street. They can also be blindsided by the prospect of guaranteed consumer spending, which in turn encourages them to invest in additional staff, inventory and IT infrastructure support without due consideration.

In doing so, there are failing to recognise two key things. The first relates to  margin, as the illustrious history of Black Friday is littered with examples of brands that slashed prices, increased spending and ultimately lost money on the biggest shopping day of the year (how silly would you feel?) Then you have the harsh reality that you may simply not hit your randomly created sales targets, as we have seen plenty of instances where questionable marketing gimmicks have impacted negatively on brands and sales.

British business-owners have even more to consider, as while the holiday is popular in the UK there are still knowledge gaps in the market. A relatively sparse 22% of British consumers have purchased something on Black Friday, for example, which is far lower than the corresponding number in the U.S. Upon consideration, this calls for a strategic approach to spending and forecasting, as you base your decision on previous performance and tangible experience.

In terms of practical advice, we would advise reviewing the sales performance of your brand over the course of the last five Black Fridays if possible. This can allow you to set an attainable sales target for 2015. It also helps you minimise expenditure on inventory and staffing, as you look to account for any expected increase in demand without overspending and eating into your margins.

2. Become a Pessimist for the Day: Prepare for a Black Friday Nightmare

Now for the difficult part.

While a carefully-considered and strategic sales target is the cornerstone of every successful (not to mention profitable) Black Friday campaign, this is based largely on theory. It makes no account for the multiple elements of your campaign that can go awry, from the collapse of your website infrastructure beneath the weight of frenzied traffic to the loss of customers to your bitterest rivals.

So if ever there was a time to be pessimistic, it is during the build-up to Black Friday. Even if this goes against the very grain of your nature, it enables you to imagine the worst-case scenarios for your business and plot viable, productive solutions. Perhaps the biggest threat to your business during Black Friday is website downtime, for example, as this translates into lost revenue and ever-diminishing profits.

The difficult part is identifying the issues that undoubtedly exist within your website and its infrastructure, which requires considerable time and a forensic eye for detail. Unless you are Mr. Robot we recommend leaving this task to an IT professional, although crucial elements such as servers, load balancers and third-party vendors are probably a good place to start. In terms of the latter, it is probably wise to retain control over these vendors so that you can switch them off or replace them in real-time if the need arises.

As painful as it may be, you must also consider losing customers to more proactive rivals. Making real-time and periodic updates to your website ensures that it remains suitably optimised throughout the course of Black Friday, while it also engages consumers that are active online. The regular promotion of your promotions and offers through Twitter and Pinterest also enables you to compete aggressively with market rivals, ensuring that you have the best possible chance to capture casual browsers and the perennially lucrative indecisive consumer.

3. Can Things Still Go Wrong? You Bet They Can!

Black Friday
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With a strategically conceived budget and viable contingency plan in mind, surely you can begin to relax and bask in the glow of a huge Black Friday profit? Perhaps, but we wouldn’t count on it as even the most secure and well-prepared business can experience huge issues during the mania that defines the holiday.

Even with a carefully laid plan in place, for example, there remains a strong possibility that your website will experience some downtime during Black Friday. Considerable traffic spikes can quickly overwhelm servers, especially if they are sustained over the course of an hour or more. This could ultimately bring your website or individual landing pages crashing down, terminating checkout processes and ceasing trade indefinitely in the process.

As if this is not bad enough for customers, imagine their horror when they are then presented with a sterile and cold error page that offers minimal explanation of the problem in hand. Without any attempt to justify to downtime or engage the customers while the issue is resolved, they are likely to seek out alternative service providers with a greater appreciation of their needs.

This can be quite easily avoided, however, as a simple burst of experimentation with CSS styling can redefine your error page in a fun and visually engaging manner. It is even possible to create interactive error pages, while using icons and imagery that relate to popular culture. It is also good practice to customise the wording on your error page, as you focus on using an active tone to reassure customers that the site will be working as normal shortly.

See Also: 8 Free ways to drive Traffic to your Website

All in all, a profitable Black Friday relies on far more than an accessible website and an army of ravenous, deal-hungry customers. By pre-empting everything that can possible go wrong and preparing for the worst case Black Friday scenario imaginable, you may find yourself celebrating come the end of the day!

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